Oatmeal YES. Yogurt? NO!
I travel a lot these days. And most of that travel happens by air. Whether I'm motivating a group of educators on the west coast with improv games, or lightening the mood at a corporate sales convention on the east coast, or flying to address a local chamber of commerce right here in the flyover, I wind up spending a lot of time in airports. And I'll admit it: Sometimes I get bored and want to test out the obscure and arbitrary rules created by the TSA. So here's one you might not know about:
OATMEAL YES. YOGURT NO!
On a recent trip I purchased some oatmeal prior to my airport screening. But with little time to board, and not wanting to go too hard and fast on the quick oats while shuffling my bags forward, I inquired at the first stop in the TSA food chain whether my oatmeal might trigger a pat down? Or a choke hold.
Of course the agent was too distracted checking out my DL picture that looks nothing like me to answer. She scribbles something on my boarding pass -- they always scribble. I wonder if her markings are code for "Anthrax in oatmeal, take him down!" But I'm still bored, so I ask again and she says, "Give it a try!" I'm shocked, but think, "Sure, it's not her quick oats! Easy for her to say." Then again, getting a jovial or kind response from a TSA agent is on par with lightning striking a winning power ball ticket. So I powered ahead and made it through the deadly body scan with oatmeal intact. It felt like I'd just completed a key move in a diamond heist with Clooney and Pitt.
But my mood was soon quashed. As I was stuffing my feet back into my Merrells (my annual choice), the preferred shoe for the frequent traveler unwilling to bend and tie a shoe ever!), I see another TSA officer holding up what looked like homemade yogurt in a jam jar.
And get this: As some kind of olive branch he offered the nice lady who owned the jam jar of yogurt the opportunity to a) eat it right there or b) have it confiscated and tossed. Now there’s a Groupon for you! One free picnic with your very own TSA agent. BYOY.
The yogurt-owner seemed flustered and briefly considered this dilemma. I almost wondered if she was about to try the old Jedi Mind Trick on him: "This is not the yogurt you're looking for. I can go about my business."
Instead she just stammers, "Oh, gosh, uh ... well ... ” But at this point her teenager's eyes started to roll off the side of his head, so the mom quickly said, "OK, just toss it."
You can imagine my survivor's guilt.
Why oh why was my oatmeal spared, while her yogurt was soon to meet its maker -- or worse, be eaten by a hungry TSA agent? It didn't seem fair. I felt a certain duty to respond. So I said to the woman, gently but just loud enough for the agent to hear: "Gosh, it seems so unfair now that my oatmeal made it through." I was holding it aloft, so she could see that somehow it had survived the scanning -- and regardless of however genetically altered it might be, it had crossed over.
Also, I wanted her to know for sure I wasn't mocking her pain. So I continued, "It seems wrong and unfair and I'm sorry for your loss." The woman smiled at that and said to the TSA agent, "He's right! Why his oatmeal and not my yogurt?" Her son's eyes rolled over to the other side of his head, but he managed to calmly grab his mother's bag while shouldering his backpack, and with classic Johnny Carson timing after a bad joke he says -- also just loud enough for the agent to hear -- "It's *obvious* that yogurt's more dangerous than oatmeal. C'mon, Mom."
He doesn’t look back, but I can see his ears smiling as he hits the escalators. And off they went. Son and mother, bonded via the tyranny of yogurt pirates posing as TSA agents.
It's moments like that that restore my faith in the youth of America.